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Report: State officials favor consent-based siting for storing nuclear waste

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Report: State officials favor consent-based siting for storing nuclear waste

The Bipartisan Policy Center called for the creation of anew dedicated nuclear waste organization in the U.S. and recommendedconsent-based as the most promising way forward in overcoming the decades-old politicalimpasse on siting nuclear waste facilities.

After 18 months of surveying state officials and seekinginput from potential host communities, the Washington, D.C.-based center'sNuclear Waste Council launched on Sept. 27 a new report that reveals stateofficials favor consent-based siting.

The council's co-chairs, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdueand former Washington Rep. Norm Dicks, called for Congress and the incomingpresidential administration next year to establish a new agency dedicated to nuclearwaste management and separate from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Dicks remarked that the support among stakeholders andpolicymakers for the need of a new, dedicated nuclear waste managementorganization is unanimous — a rarity in his experience. "The failure ofthe past decades are widely acknowledged and have been extensively documented,"Dicks said. "If there is a single point on which everyone involved in thenuclear waste policy debate can agree, it is that the approach to date has notdelivered results."

The DOE under the Obama administration proposed inDecember 2015 a newconsent-based siting approach that initially seeks to develop a pilot interimstorage facility to accept used nuclear fuel from already-decommissionedreactors. The nuclear energy industry as represented by the Nuclear EnergyInstitute chided the DOE in a Julyletter that said the proposal does not absolve the federalgovernment from its legal duty to build a permanent deep geological repositoryat the now-defunded Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada. As a result of politicalimpasse over Yucca Mountain since it was defunded in 2011, focus has shifted tofinding alternatives for storing the county's commercial radioactive waste thatis building up at nuclear plants and decommissioned sites across the country.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz a receptive Senate panel recentlythat the DOE is hopeful it will issue a consent-based siting plan later thisyear and is also encouraged by initiatives by private companies to buildinterim storage facilities, which do not need congressional approval.

The collaborative discussions envisioned by theconsent-based approach over siting and constructing nuclear waste storagefacilities will involve the federal and state governments, local communities,tribal agencies and other stakeholders. Perdue stressed the need to engage withand provide objective technical expertise and information to communities andothers. "I think by really respecting a local community's right to engagein an open, honest and fair conversation, the risks and the rewards ofpotentially hazardous facilities can be addressed," Perdue said.

Among other recommendations in the report, the BipartisanPolicy Center called for the development of safety standards and other sitingand operating criteria; the encouragement of multiple applications; and thecreation of timelines for key milestones and decision points to help betterinform potential host communities on the siting process, including "off-ramps"to exit the process altogether.

Looking at legislative efforts after the new year whenCongress reconvenes, Dicks said he expects bills to establish a separatenuclear waste management organization from of Senate Committee on Energy andNatural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Reps. John Shimkus,R-Ill., and Fred Upton, R-Mich., who chairs the House Committee on Energy andCommerce. Dicks said he also expects a revived push by some legislators torevive Yucca Mountain after the facility's opponent, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.,leaves office in January 2017.

The Bipartisan Policy Center's recommendations, however,include an acknowledgment that there still remain questions over whatcommunity consentmeans, who gets a say, and the appropriate role for federal and stateregulatory authority over nuclear waste.

"We're under no illusions that pursuing a consent-basedpath is going to be easy or much less guaranteed to succeed but we do believethat it is the right path to go forward on," Perdue said. "Continueddelay in action serves no one's interest."